If you recall, Rahul Gandhi was demanding that the government should empty the stock of food storage by distributing it on a large scale. Even before the opposition talked about it, the government ensured free food in the lockdown period through the Public Distribution System (PDS). The Modi government, that eliminated many ghosts in the system by linking Aadhaar to PDS system previously, used this crisis time to accelerate the implementation of One Nation One Ration Card, benefitting the poor migrant labourers.
While the Union government has left no lacuna in distributing grains to the state governments, there is a disturbing trend emerging at the receiving end in some states. The states like Maharashtra and Telangana are reporting a diversion of PDS rice which seems to be a big scam involving influential people.
The Rice Scam
Quoting police sources, the report mentioned, “the accused have used political and bureaucratic influence to export PDS rice worth ₹80 crore to various countries, using companies with fake documents. Certain government warehousing corporation officials alerted us about the wrongdoings.”
If we juxtapose this news with another news report dated August 13, 2020 from Telangana, the distinct possibility of a dubious network active in both the states come into the picture.
Telangana Today reported a few days back that 11 people were arrested in Hyderabad on charges of illegally procuring PDS rice from beneficiaries and selling them to dealers in Maharashtra at higher rates.
According to this report “the arrested persons were Wasim Peer Mohammed, Mohd Dasthageer, Harish Shukur Shaik, Ismail Ibrahim Mullah, Riyaz, Salim Ahmed, Sohail, Shaik Feroz Mustafa, Imtiaz Mohd, K Hanumanthu and Mansoor, all residents of Shaheen Nagar, Balapur and Sholapur of Maharashtra.”
Whether the scam is about diversion of rice from the warehouses or illegally procuring it from beneficiaries in such a large quantity, neither is possible without some level of support and possible collusion of officials from the government at the local and state levels.
In any case, it also emphasises the fact that if one follows Rahul Gandhi’s listless advice of somehow emptying food from the stock, it may only further help magnify these kinds of scams at the local level.
These are not the only states. Back in April 2020 there were allegations propped up against the Mamata Bannerjee led West Bengal government on similar lines. The Trinamool government was charged with not distributing the rice sent by the Centre to the needy. Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh had claimed that “Ration items are not available. There is a conspiracy to hide 40 percent of the rice. Meetings have been held on this issue and even ministers attended.”. Even the governor of West Bengal had raised this issue. The State govt at that point in time said that they distribute rice under PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana only after receiving the whole stock meant for the state; however, the allegations continue to remain unaddressed, raising questions on the probity of the Trinamool Congress.
Some States Set an Example
There are some states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who actually made good of the PDS system during crisis to the benefit of the people. Nearly 60.7 lakh new beneficiaries were added under NFSA by states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar during the COVID-19 period. While Uttar Pradesh issued 45 lakh new ration card after March 2020, Bihar issued 15 lakh new ration cards for the same period. Tripura, Manipur, J&K have also issued new ration cards.
The Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Scheme was announced in the middle of May 2020 and after a total of about 6.38 LMT foodgrains was lifted by States/UTs based on their own initial estimates of migrant population. But later it turned out that the beneficiaries in this segment is not more than roughly 3.81 crore on a monthly basis. As a result, States/UTs had distributed only about 2.3 LMT foodgrains by end of June, 2020. As per requests received from many States/UTs, the distribution period of the already lifted foodgrains was extended by another two months, till August 31, 2020. Thus, an opportunity has been provided to the States/UTs adequate opportunity to cover maximum number of migrants/stranded migrants.